How to Watch (or Avoid) the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

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The Paddington Bear float makes its way down Sixth Avenue during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on November 28, 2014. Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Updated | Millions of local residents and tourists gathered in New York City on Thursday morning to kick off the holiday season with the 89th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Thousands of people, including clowns, balloon handlers and bands, were marching from Manhattan's Upper West Side to Macy's midtown flagship store in Herald Square as the famous balloon figures floated above the city in one of the country's long-standing holiday traditions.

Related: Spectators Flock to Thanksgiving Parade Despite Security Fears

The event was being held less than two weeks after Islamic State attacks in Paris killed 130 people and injured hundreds more. Shortly after the attacks, the militant group, better known as ISIS, released a video that included brief glimpses of Times Square and Herald Square, suggesting that America's most populous city is a potential target of attacks.

"New Yorkers won't live in fear and people should continue to go to work, live their lives and enjoy the greatest city in the world," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

Spectators flocked to the parade despite the security fears.

In Focus

Photos: Spectacles and Spectators at 89th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

The largest parade in the country returns with its annual merriment and festive balloons.
Launch Slideshow 11 PHOTOS

New York City Police Department officers and local and federal authorities on Sunday participated in a training exercise that simulated an active-shooter situation in a subway station near Chinatown in lower Manhattan. The response to the scenario—involving two shooters, one in a suicide vest—was recorded so it could be analyzed by officials, police said.

As copycat and lone-wolf attacks continue to be a concern nationwide, the NYPD last week deployed the first 100 officers of its Critical Response Command (CRC), a new elite squad specifically trained to protect the city against terrorist attacks. NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said thousands of police officers will be out in force on Thursday during the parade.

Who Will Be at the Parade?

The parade crawled through the heart of the city, beginning at 77th Street and Central Park West at 9 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday. The procession makes its way down Central Park West, until it turns at Columbus Circle onto Central Park South. Marchers will then turn onto Sixth Avenue ahead of their final destination, in front of Macy's Herald Square.

The Rockettes are to perform, as will members of theatrical productions including Fiddler on the Roof, Finding Neverland, The King and I, Something Rotten and On Your Feet!

The giant balloons arguably are the parade's hallmark. This year's lineup includes the Pillsbury Doughboy, SpongeBob SquarePants and the Elf on the Shelf. Jake Owen, Jordin Sparks, Mariah Carey and Train will be among the performers.

How to Watch

Tune in to NBC News or the network's live stream. In previous years, about 50 million people have viewed the procession on TV.

Fans also can "like" the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Facebook page to live-stream the event, or follow the static Earth Cam installed in Manhattan's Columbus Circle.

How to Avoid the Parade

OK, so you're not one of those people who screams, "Everyone loves a parade!" Well, at least the spectators' viewing area only takes up 2.5 miles of the city.

For those wishing to maneuver easily around the city between just before Thanksgiving and Sunday, officials recommend taking mass transit whenever possible. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has made several changes to accommodate commuters, including suspending maintenance on bridges and tunnels. Subway trains and buses will operate normally except on Thanksgiving Day, when they will function on a Sunday schedule. There will be additional shuttle service at 42nd Street and increased morning service on the No. 1 train line for people trying to reach the parade.

Streets along the parade route and additional roads in those areas will be closed.

Parades Around the Country

New York isn't the only city to host a big parade ahead of turkey and stuffing time. Philadelphia is home to the oldest Thanksgiving Day parade in the country. The 1.4-mile 6ABC Dunkin' Donuts Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade also includes giant balloons, floats and performances by local choirs, dance groups and marching bands. As in New York, Santa Claus arrives at the end of the parade to welcome the city to the holiday season. The event, now in its 96th year, began at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.

In downtown Chicago starting at 8 a.m. Central time, floats and performers proceeded through the streets for the annual McDonald's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The event was founded in 1934 to raise the morale of residents during the Great Depression. Now more than 5,000 performers and participants are involved with the parade each year.

The theme for the 89th parade in Detroit is "So Happy Together." The lineup includes balloons of Kermit the Frog and Rainbow Fish, and marchers from the Girl Scouts and the Michigan Lottery.

In Houston, more than 200,000 people were expected to crowd the streets for the city's 66th annual HEB Thanksgiving Day Parade. Dwight Howard, who plays center for the NBA's Houston Rockets, serves as grand marshal.

At the White House, the first family on Wednesday participated in the traditional "pardoning" of the turkey. Each Thanksgiving, the president allows a turkey presented by the chairman of the National Turkey Federation to avoid becoming a Thanksgiving meal centerpiece and instead live out the rest of its days on a farm in Virginia.